I am probably the last person who is qualified to talk about living in a secular environment. I have to work really hard at meeting unbelievers. Non-Christian people are rare in my world, and I regret that. I wish it wasn’t true. I have sometimes had opportunities to meet people outside my Christian environment and lead them to Christ, but it is something I have to go out of my way to do.
Many people who are reading this will be in a much different scenario, living or working in an environment where they encounter unsaved people every day. And this is a wonderful opportunity. Whether you are already working in a pagan environment, or whether you are a student at TMU getting trained for a future career out in the world, it is important to understand the opportunities and responsibilities that you have as Christ’s ambassador to a lost society. And I want to begin by looking at Titus and the Cretans.
Titus was a young protégé of the apostle Paul who was sent to an island called Crete. Titus’s responsibility in Crete was to build churches and to develop leadership in those churches (Titus 1:5). And there were many towns on the island that needed churches — perhaps as many as 100 — so this was going to involve a lot of work.
Not only was there a lot of ground to cover in Crete, but the Cretans themselves were not going to make it easy. Cretans were tough people to deal with (Titus 1:10). Many were rebellious and empty talkers. Some of them were deceivers, spreading false teaching. And as a whole they were known as liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12). This reputation of theirs was not an exaggeration, either; Paul himself confirmed that this was true (Titus 1:13).
These were the people that Titus was tasked with reaching. He had been called to plant churches in a society that was thoroughly pagan, given over to deceit and laziness. Like many of the early churches, these Christian communities in Crete were going to be small islands in a sea of paganism, existing in complete contrast to everything in their culture.
As modern westerners, we have existed in a culture historically influenced by Christian morality. We have had Christian politicians in our government and Christian athletes in the limelight of society. But in first century A.D. Greek society, there weren’t any Christians with cultural influence. Titus, Paul, and others were reaching a society where the Bible and its morality were unknown.
The interesting thing is that the early church never attempted to “impact” their society in the sense that we often use that word. They never worked to push a biblical moral agenda. They never got involved in trying to elect certain people to political office. They never got involved in trying to push people up the social ladder in order to gain some pervasive moral influence over their culture. Changing the morality or the politics of the world around them was never their goal. Instead, this is what the early church cared about, according to Paul’s letter to Titus:
In a word, what the early church cared about was evangelism. They were concerned about bringing the Word of God into the public forum so that the truth could be heard, and they were concerned about living godly lives so that there would be no hindrance to people believing in the truth. They knew that the testimony they gave through their individual lives, not the testimony of a moralized culture, was necessary for reaching their society. As the German philosopher Heine once said, “Show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”
I think the early church had it right with this perspective, and I think we as Christians today need to recapture it. Winning elections and teaching ethics do not save souls; the Word of God does. The church, as Christ’s ambassador, does not exist to change governments, but to change lives.
This is why the early church existed, and this is why we exist today. Though our culture’s paganism looks different from Crete’s, we are still an island in the middle of a dark sea, and our responsibility is not to moralize our culture. Our responsibility is not to get involved in politics in order to get people in power who can change society. Our responsibility is redemptive. Our responsibility is evangelistic. If we live and speak in such a way that lost people are brought to the knowledge of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we have done our whole duty.